Why Should We Supplement Our Diets?


The function of nutrition is to build a better body. In today’s fast-pace world, getting optimal nutrition without concentrated, high-tech food supplements is close to impossible. There are a hundred trillion cells in operation inside you. Your health depends on your nutrient supply lines each like a tiny factory assembly line, producing a piece of what we call our life.  Each of the assembly lines requires continuous supplies of raw materials in order to produce its particular output. If raw materials are not available, then raw materials will be taken from your bones, liver or other body tissues. Without the raw materials, your body’s output stops or becomes inferior, and the result is energy loss, discomfort, disease or depression. Eating enough nutrients to ensure cellular function progresses correctly is not easy. Supplementation combined with wholesome food is the best way to ensure optimal supplies of nutrients. Supplements guarantee certain amounts of nutrients as long as those supplements are in the form of concentrated food instead of laboratory made supplements.

Your body is your temple, so it requires a solid foundation of good health, building materials, fuel and rest to build a healthy body. The foundations of good health are water, vitamins and minerals (from fruits and vegetables mainly), essential fatty acids and anti-oxidants.

WATER

Your body comprises of about 80% water and without it, its cells cannot do their job. Water is your body’s most important nutrient, and without it nothing can function normally. When dehydrated, even by 2%, your body’s performance drops. If you want optimum performance, the first rule is: drink enough water whenever you can BUT you have to drink it clean!

VITAMINS and MINERALS

Vitamins and minerals are essential components of structures and functions in the body. On top of that some vitamins and minerals act as anti-oxidants (eg beta-carotene, vitamin C and Vitamin E). No matter how small the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is, without even the trace elements, the body cannot function properly. The best source of vitamins and minerals are natural whole foods especially fruits and vegetables. The World Health Organisation recommends eating more than 5-9 servings a day including a variety of colours – ‘colour me fit’ – this suggests eating a variety of colourful foods as each provides a different benefit, contributing to a solid foundation of health:

Red – phytonutrients, lycopene (tomatoes, berries)

Purple – resveratrol, anthocyanidins (grapes, currants, plums)

Green – isoflavones, lutein, zeaxanthin (spinach, broccoli, lettuce)

White – allicin, quercetin (garlic, onions, pears, cauliflower, mushroom)

Orange – alpa-carotene, beta-carotene (pineapple, carrots, butternut, pawpaw)

Eating a variety of colours also ensures you get all the necessary vitamins and minerals in, to supply your body tissues with the materials they need:

Eyes

Vitamin A, carotenoids

Bones

Vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium

Tissues, Skin

Vitamin E, vitamin C, biotin

Muscles

Magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium

Cells

Vitamin C, Vitamin E, chloride, potassium, zinc

Nerves

B-vitamins

Blood

Vitamin K, B12, iron, folic acid

Teeth

Calcium, fluoride

SMART FATS

An athlete’s need for fat is minimal. Fat intake should be less than 30% of total energy intake a day (and 15% for athletes). Three percent of your body fat is essential (the fat around your organs) which acts as cushioning and insulation for the organs. Recommended fats are the essential fatty acids that your body cannot make – omega 3, omega 6, EPA and DHA. These fats are the major components of cell membranes, brain matter, eyes, adrenal glands and sex organs. Fats are also used for the high level of oxygen use and energy transformation required for optimum performance.

Sources of these fats from food are:

• Oils: olive, canola, walnut, flaxseed, soybean

• Other: avocado, walnuts, almonds & seeds

A great deal of the fat in our food is hidden so a conscious effect needs to be made to read labels.

Medium Chain triglycerides (MCTs) are found in many sports supplements. MCTs bypass the usual mechanisms by which the body stores fat, and are more readily available as a source of energy which cannot be stored as fat. They therefore have a place in sports nutrition as a short-term aid when it is critical to maintain muscle while keeping body fat as low as possible.

Fat rules to follow:

• Eliminate saturated fats from the diet

• Use olive oil as the main source of fat

• Eat fatty fish twice a week

• Keep fat to 15% of total energy

ANTI-OXIDANTS

During exercise, muscles undergo microscopic damage (the soreness and weakness you feel the next day!). The use of oxygen, and exercise itself creates free radicals in the body which can create havoc for cell processes. Antioxidants scavenge the free radicals and combat injury. Major antioxidants necessary to save muscle is glutathione (made from cysteine and other amino acids), vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and Coenzyme Q10. The average diet is deficient in anti-oxidants, so supplementing is usually imperative, especially in athletes.

Once the foundations are set in place, the core structure of good nutrition can be built on top, namely food and fluid which keep the body going. The macronutrients needed to sustain a healthy active body are carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

PROTEIN

Over 50% of the dry weight of your body is protein. All bodily functions, are controlled by thousands of different enzymes – and all enzymes are proteins! But it is not protein intake that controls muscle growth, but the demand for growth caused by the stimulation of intense exercise. For muscle gain, exercise and the correct protein intake is key to creating new muscle structure. Protein does nothing to stimulate growth, it simply provides the building blocks! Eating poor quality protein will create poor quality muscles, bones, teeth etc – you are what you eat after all. Good protein sources are your lean meats, skinless chicken, fish, egg whites, dairy products (cottage cheese, plain yoghurt).

So, how much protein do you need?

When planning protein needs for athletes, you need to take into account the training schedule. For rugby players, 2.0 – 2.2g / kg / day is usually prescribed. Depending on the weight of the athlete, a protein supplement may be needed to reach the protein goals, but it must be noted that athletes should get their protein intake from food first, and then top it up if need be with a supplement. Often, this is necessary straight after training when eating a whole food is difficult. Saying that, most athletes can reach their protein requirements with food alone. The three branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s), leucine, isoleucine and valine make up one-third of muscle protein. To maintain muscle size and performance, it is recommended to take BCAAs, as they are depleted during exercise. Evidence shows that the use of BCAA’s 1-2 hours before exercise spares muscle BCAA and testosterone during and after training which may have an anabolic effect.

CARBOHYDRATES

Proteins, vitamins, minerals and essential fats are building materials. They are used to grow a better body. Carbohydrates are mainly fuel – the premium fuel! They are used to provide energy to put the building materials together. Carbohydrates are always the limiting fuel, so it is necessary to ensure the body has enough to allow optimum performance. Training should always leave you on a physiological and psychological high. You cannot achieve this goal without the proper carbohydrates. Training and your carbohydrate nutrition must be designed for your body, so that you finish each session with good performance. To grow stronger, you need to finish exercise with fuel to spare, so the timing of carbohydrates also becomes important. Carbohydrates should be eaten in small quantities throughout the day. For most of the time (except during and immediately after training), complex carbs (low GI) are the way to go, such as wholegrain foods. Wholesome foods like rice, pasta, whole-wheat products, legumes, oats and fresh fruits. These cause smaller rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and are more effective in glycogen repletion than refined sugars.

For most athletes, it is impossible to obtain all the necessary nutrients due to the high demand on the body. Performance enhancing supplements are often needed to top up good nutrition.

The five primary reasons to supplement are:

1. Supplementation can correct nutrient deficiencies and help make up for poor dietary choices.

Only 9% of the population consumes the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The 1997 World Health Report stated that our modern diet is too high in fat, sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and does not provide enough vitamins, minerals or fibre to meet our nutritional needs. Nutritional supplementation is essential to correct nutrient deficiencies and to overcome the effect of poor dietary choices.

2. Supplementation can help replenish what is missing in your foods.

Food no longer supplies your body with enough of the main nutrients required for optimum health. Depleted soils, preservatives, refining processes and cooking, all result in lower nutrient content in food. By supplementing with vitamins and chelated minerals, you can start to replace what is missing in your food.

3. Supplementation can help provide your body with the nutrition necessary to combat environmental stresses.

Pollution and high-stress lifestyles produce chemicals that enter your body and begin to attack your tissues and cells, which can lead to disease and premature aging. Free radicals constantly attack our cells, and our bodies do not make enough antioxidants to combat the damaging effects of free radicals. Supplementing with antioxidants gives your body the ammunition it needs to fight back against free radicals, to repair damaged cells and tissues, and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

4. Supplementation can help meet the higher nutritional needs of today’s lifestyle.

Stress and intense exercise depletes crucial nutrients and creates a higher demand for specific vitamins and minerals. Unless these nutrients are replenished, a host of stress-related symptoms and diseases can arise.

5. Supplementation can help decrease your risk of chronic disease and reduce health care costs.

People feel healthier and more energetic when they take supplements. Supplements can help increase overall fitness and well-being and improve the quality of your life.

To top it all off, at the tip of the nutrition temple is recovery. When injury strikes, one aspect of recovery that is often overlooked is nutrition. Exercise-induced injuries prevent optimal training and competitive advantage for an athlete. Enhancing recovery from sports injuries is therefore very important for athletes. Injured exercisers often use methods such as R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and stretching to improve recovery from injury, but often overlook nutrition.

Immediately following a severe injury, an inflammatory response is initiated, lasting from several hours up to several days. Recommendations are often made to reduce the inflammation (using anti-inflammatory medication).Dieticians recommend avoiding the consumption of too much omega-6 fat following injury, and increasing omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are found primarily in fish oils, flax seed oils, walnuts, and salmon, so supplements are often recommended. Omega-6 fats are commonly found in vegetable oils. Decreasing sunflower and corn oil in the diet is fairly easy, and may help avoid excessive inflammation following an injury.

Successful development of an athlete is a balancing act between a good training program, the correct nutrients to build, repair and maintain body tissues, and rest and sleep (at 9 hours a day) to allow for optimal growth.

@FuturelifeZA

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